Al-Sadr: Russia, America and al-Assad should all get out of Syria!

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr on Saturday issued a broadside demanding that Russia and the United States withdraw from Syria and that strongman Bashar al-Assad resign as president.

Al-Sadr’s stand against al-Assad is unusual among Shiite movements. The Lebanese Shiite militia, Hizbullah, has entered Syria to battle for al-Assad’s survival. Iran is also strongly backing him. Other Iraqi Shiite militias, such as the League of the Righteous, have sent units to support the al-Assad regime, for instance in the battle for Aleppo. Contrary to what some allege, the Twelver Shiite groups are not very likely to be supporting al-Assad because he has an Alawite Shiite heritage. Alawites are not considered orthodox Muslims by the Twelver Shiites. Rather, there are two reasons for their support. Hizbullah and Iran need Syria to be in friendly hands if Iran is to continue to resupply Hizbullah with munitions for defense of South Lebanon from Israel. Second, al-Assad has configured himself as fighting a wave of Sunni extremism that threatens both secularists and the region’s Shiites.

Al-Sadr, who has long been considered quirky by other Iraqi leaders, began by calling on US President Donald J. Trump to stop going to excess in taking frivolous and thoughtless positions and decisions. He said Trump’s flakiness not only damages the US but also the world community. He warned that a heavy US intervention in Syria could turn into a Vietnam-style quagmire for Washington. Nor did al-Sadr see how Trump could bombard civilians to death in Mosul and then turn around and condemn the Syrian government for its killing of civilians (admittedly by horrific gas).

He also doubted that the US could accomplish anything positive in Syria. After all, he said, the Americans announced that they would help roll up ISIL in Iraq years ago, but ISIL is still there.

Al-Sadr asked, “Wasn’t enough for Syria that all sorts of internal and external actors were interfering in the country, such that the US should now initiate a negative role there, as well? The only one harmed by that,” he said, “is the Syrian people.”

Al-Sadr added, “I wouldn’t rule out that Trump’s decision to strike Syria will permit Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) to spread into other areas.” If the US wants to play the role of peacemaker and promoter of dialogue in conflict situations, he said, it can’t put off limits an honest broker role in Palestine, Burma, Bahrain, and so forth, where it sides heavily with one side against another.

Al-Sadr called on all parties to withdraw militarily from Syria and for the Syrian people to take charge, since it is the only legitimate actor that can determine its own destiny. Otherwise, only terrorism and occupation will benefit.

He specifically said Russia should also leave.

Al-Sadr went on to say “I find it fair that President Bashar al-Assad should tender his resignation and step down from power out of love for beloved Syria, so as to spare it the horrors of war and its domination by terrorists. He should give the reins of power to some popular and effective individuals who can stand against terrorism, so as to save Syrian territory as quickly as possible, so that his action can be lauded as historic and heroic, before it is too late…”

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12 Responses

  1. Al Sadr sounds like he actually understands more about democracy, and more about how nationalism works in the modern world, than Trump or any of his advisors.

    • He forgot to mention Iran and Hezbollah. Why should they remain? They were complicit in the death of 400k+ people.

      But then why we are wishing for the impossible we should ask that Santa Claus leaves as well.

  2. There is a lot in there makes more sense than anything else on the table.

    “I find it fair that President Bashar al-Assad should tender his resignation and step down from power out of love for beloved Syria, so as to spare it the horrors of war and its domination by terrorists. He should give the reins of power to some popular and effective individuals who can stand against terrorism, so as to save Syrian territory as quickly as possible”.

    I’ve been reading about Manaf Tlass* who might be someone Assad could be persuaded to hand the reins to until something more lasting comes about. Such a solution could also serve to reduce general loss of face.

    * link to en.wikipedia.org

  3. Now this guy has the right idea!
    I’ll bet the neocons are sorry that
    he turned down their APC ride
    offer back in 2004.

  4. The maladministration would never heed the wisdom of Moqtada al Sadr because he is a Muslim and wears a funny hat.

    • The neocons always seem to find some smooth, reassuring expat/exile with all the answers, who they can feel comfortable with socially, over drinks on the Georgetown party circuit. Toss in an endorsement from the WINEP (aka, the Likud’s US branch office) and the fellow can do no wrong.

  5. WRT Assad, this probably should be taken in the historical context of Saddam Hussain disbanding his army (for humanitarian reasons) in the face of the imminent American invasion, even Al-Sadr’s several years in hiding/exile in Syria and Iran.
    Also, in the context of Assad’s offer (at least twice) to discuss handing over power as part of transition negotiations with “the rebels” (negotiations that were marred by “the rebels” refusing to be seated at the negotiating table. Yes, that was then (when Assad was weaker and the rebels were stronger, even flush with victory back in 2012 (Brahimi Initiative)/2013/14).

    In view of an “uncertain future”, a living (if in exile) Assad may be better for Syria than the chaos of a bloody decapitation/regime change — going down with the ship and fighting to your last breath is not necessarily most “heroic” …
    Yes, imagine Syria minus this proxy war, imagine the war on ISIS minus the Syrian civil war.

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